back to article Chaos feared after Unix time-zone database is nuked

The internet's authoritative source for time-zone data has been shut down after the volunteer programmer who maintained it was sued for copyright infringement by a maker of astrology software. David Olson, custodian of the Time Zone and Daylight Saving Time Database, said on Thursday he was retiring the FTP server he's long …


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  1. bazza Silver badge

    Only in America...

    That is all

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No big deal

      Just choose another datasource


      sent from my iPhone


      [Surely that's what he would have said.]

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Here's another data source with GPLv2 licence

        Not all astrologers are tossers

        1. elderlybloke

          Not All?

          Maybe an occasional exception but no more than that.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Then he should have blocked access from the US

      And let the rest of the world carry on as normal while stuff breaks in the US. Maybe that would concentrate minds a bit.

  2. PassiveSmoking

    Oh for...

    A useful resource provided as a public service by an altruistic programmer has just been wiped out by a fucking astrologist? I think the universal level of Fail just hit critical mass.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Other bit. Apparently said useful resource, completely dependant on the good graces of one bloke doing his stuff for free, was relied upon by some important things.

      Can anyone say "single point of failure"? No? Oh well, that's all right then.

      Of course the ultimate Fail here is by Astrolabe themselves. I'll bet quite a bit that the usual suspects out in the merry world of hacktivist land aren't going to take this lying down and that Astrolabe's life is going to be a bit bloody miserable for quite a while.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh for

      The trouble is, if the "useful resource provided as a public service by an altruistic programmer" turns out to be based on stolen information, then the programmer wasn't being so clever after all, and all those users of the resource have been effectively handling stolen goods.

      The fact that in these parts we think higher of programmers than astrologers has nothing to do with it.

      Rather than get upset, a sensible route would be to get a license from them to use the information.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I don't know anything about the case, but being altruistic never absolved anyone from respecting the law. And rightfully so.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Stealing life

        I don't think it should actually be possible to be charged with stealing a simple description of the real world. In fact, I think it should be an offence to claim copyright on observations of fact.

        The fact that the claim comes from a professional liar and fraudster (AKA astrologer) actually should make a difference, BTW.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Stealing life

          "In fact, I think it should be an offence to claim copyright on observations of fact"

          So all works of non-fiction can't be copyrighted?

          No more reference books, travel guides, programming guides? Glad you're not in charge, Robert.

          (Whilst I have no links to astrologers, I think they are best described not as liars and fraudsters, but as part of the entertainment industry, an industry which is fully of worthy stuff where you suspend disbelief and reality in order to gain some enjoyment. Taking their readings as anything more literal would be plain silly)

          1. NagChampa

            Can't claim copyright on a recipe

            As far as I understand, facts themseleves can't be copyrighted. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Trivial Pursuit got away with ripping off a book of facts for their questions for that exact reason. Cracked has an article on it

            Similarly, recipes can't be copyrighted, as far as the ingredients and steps to create the dish go. Any flavour text, related commentary, or photographs can certainly be copyrighted, but there's nothing stopping me reproducing a recipe from a famous chef in basic terms without having to ask first or having to give any kind of acknowledgment.

        2. Ru

          "it should be an offence to claim copyright on observations of fact."

          Well, you can't claim copyright on basic facts (eg, my height or weight) but you can claim copyright on more detailed things (say, a biography or other work of non-fiction which contains factual information). Grabbing basic facts from a copyright work is fine, but the more complex the construct you're appropriating, the more you're likely to fall afoul of the law.

          I'd be very surprised if the astrologers succeeded in their lawsuit, but the damage has already been done.

          1. AdamWill

            the concept is....

            the 'creative step'. A biography is non-fiction, but it's a creative work; the form of words you choose to use to express a 'factual' description is not dictated by the facts you're describing.

            It's hard to see how Astrolabe is going to argue that a simple historical list of the timezones in place at a given time in a given place involves a 'creative step' at any point.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It's not a description of the natural world

          It's a compilation of political-historical data (for example, day-light saving times have been introduced at different times in different nations) which requires a lot of tedious work. It's also not a patent, it's copyright, which is very different. If the guy had done his own research and arrived at the same data there would no basis for a suit.

          A lot of ignorance in this forum...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            $deity! Such ignorance!

            Almost all of you have prejudged him, you evil gits.

            Why do any of you think there is *any* legitimate legal basis for the suit?

            Nearly all of you have just assumed that he did use the copyrighted document(s) without permission, even though you have no evidence whatsoever on which to base that assumption.

            Given that you seem to think that, I can well understand him closing up shop because if that's all the thanks he gets from you ingrates, then it really isn't worth bothering to fight the suit.

            Unless he has a lawyer who'll defend him 'pro-bono', then it would just end up costing a lot of money, distracting him from his actual paid work, maybe even losing him his job, and will get dragged out for as long as Astrolabe can possibly manage.

            Even if he wins, he still loses. So what's the point?

            As to whether or not Astrolabe actually have a case - reading the complaint, they almost certainly do not. You cannot copyright raw data, you can only copyright a particular arrangement of same. The web pages referenced in the complaint don't support their complaint either.

            You can provide data subject to a contract, and limit the purposes that data is used for via that contract, but that is contract law.

            Finally, the Astrolabe complaint requests an immediate temporary restraining order. If that was granted, Olson had no choice but to take down the site until the restraining order is lifted - even if he has chosen to fight the case.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "the ultimate Fail here is by Astrolabe themselves"

        Really? For objecting when someone steals and distributes their property?

        Just because there's some hactivists who don't respect the law doesn't mean Astrolabe are in the wrong.

        (As for the madness of architecting a single point of failure like this - regardless of legitimacy of data origin - well 'Fail' indeed on all the programmers!)

        1. Anonymous Coward

          @AC 1

          "Really? For objecting when someone steals and distributes their property?"

          There is a huge difference to be kept in mind here. The guy didn't got any financial profit from it (in fact it would probably only have /cost/ him money to maintain the server and database) and some people used his service for /years/ now.

          If that astrologer idiot was so upset then why not start doing something any civilized person would have done ? Ask the guys behind the database if they actually did use / copy or take his work and if so could fix that or contact him to discuss some kind if compensation ?

          Maybe I'm overreacting, but what I see here are civil problems being "solved" in a totally uncivilized and maybe even savage way: "We'll sue!!".

          I'm >< close to thinking that 'the art of sueing' is something every US business needs to embrace because "if done right it might even make more /money/ than doing your common dumb business."

          1. Aaron Em

            Yes, you're overreacting

            To react "in a totally uncivilized and maybe even savage way", they'd have needed to employ some sort of actual physical violence, rather than merely the process established under American law for the resolution of *civil* claims. If they'd sent thugs around with AK-47s to murder him in a hail of bullets as he stepped out onto his front porch, I'd be willing to take you serously. As it is, I think you might do well to go a bit easier on your stimulant of choice.

      3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
        Paris Hilton

        @AC 08:52

        It’s a pity we can only use one icon on a post because your post deserves FAIL, WTF and troll, and possibly Paris as well give the level of intelligence you are displaying, I can only assume that you are in fact an employee of Astrolabe. Astrolabe are claiming copyright on timezones!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? Timezone information is "stolen" information.

        Time zones were first proposed by Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming at the International Meridian Conference in October 1884, so I think there may be some prior art. Perhaps the International Standards Organisation (ISO) should sue Astrolabe for daring to publish international time zone information.

        In fact the complaint contains this:-

        “These atlases set forth interpretations of historical time zone information pertaining to innumerable locations throughout the world, based upon the compilation of historical research and documentation regarding applicable time zones officially and/or in actuality in effect, given the actual latitude and longitudes of specific locations throughout the world”.

        “innumerable locations throughout the world” WTF, there are only 24 longitudal time zones in the world, not counting zones like BST, CET etc. And If these time zones are “officially in effect” are they not owned by whoever “officially” put then into effect?

        Astrolabe???? Wasn’t that invented by Hipparchos (c. 190 BC – c. 120 BC) the Greek astrologer, astronomer, geographer, and mathematician and founder of trigonometry. Ooohhh!!! quick, somebody from Greece sue astrolabe for using the name of a Greek invention .

        Paris, because its always Bristol time[1] with her.

        [1]The clock on the Corn Exchange in Bristol in the UK has two minute hands. The black minute hand shows GMT and the red minute hand shows Bristol time (GMT – 10mins), Bristol, rhyming slang, short version of “Bristol city” which rhymes with……..

        1. Aaron Em

          There's nothing like

          a dozen exclamation points and question marks -- in a row -- to convince all comers that your arguments are serious-minded ones which any reasonable person must offer due consideration.

          On the other hand, who am I to judge? Spending one's entire life in a state of mental adolescence is a rare and enviable privilege indeed. Well, enviable, anyway; if I could honestly call it 'rare', we'd all be a lot better off.

        2. Raumkraut

          1. You can't directly copyright facts, nor (in the US) mere collections of facts.

          2. There are more than 24 observed timezones. Numerous places are +/- 30 minutes over the hour, some +-15 minutes.

          3. Timezones also involve daylight savings obsevance information. Which is a real bugger, even when everyone agrees.

          4. Official timezones are entirely political, so the details vary over time, on the whims of governments.

        3. Chris L

          Someone seems to have forgotten that timezone lines aren't just straight lines going N-S on a globe. In the Pacific they are decidedly twisty adn essentially it's easier to have a location=>timezone database (which appears to be the copyright asserted by Astrolabe) than saying the fundamentally erroneous 'everyone east of foo and west of bar is in timezone X'.

          1. Jonny F

            There are MORE than 24 observed hour timezones

            > 2. There are more than 24 observed timezones. Numerous places are +/- 30 minutes over the hour, some +-15 minutes.

            You would think there are only 24 time zones on the hour, but there are in fact more. Some places at the ends of +11+12 or -11-12 hours do not want to be +12 or -12, so they bump themselves to +13 or -13, as it were.

            My win7 PC machine knows about +13 Fuka'alofa, but there are others. Grab an atlas.

            And it doesn't matter what you think of the profession of the people who did the work. If they have a thing that was difficult to compile and is complicated and detailed, if you want it you do not steal it. License it, ask for it, go make your own, etc.

            1. veti Silver badge

              I think your Win7 PC might mean Nuku'aLofa, which is UTC+13.

              So is New Zealand, incidentally, since daylight savings kicked in.

              And that's the only real reason this information is complicated at all. If we could just agree to forget about the daylight savings nonsense, it would take about half an hour to compile all world timezones and end this nonsense right now.

              The reason we can't is because they keep changing, at least twice a year in most places.

              Three years ago, the NZ government decided to extend its daylight savings time by three weeks. The decision wrong-footed Microsoft, who released at least three Windows patches to reflect the change - and despite being fully patched, during those three weeks, my Outlook calendar was *still* reminding me of appointments an hour late. But Unix-based systems had no such problems.

        4. Eddie Edwards

          There are only 24 time zones? Really? No half-hour timezones or anything then? And these have been static throughout history?

          Dude, failing to understand that a subject is complex doesn't count as insight into that subject.

      4. Rob Crawford


        For those claiming some form of IP infringement.

        There is insufficient information to judge what is even being claimed never mind whether it is even vaguely valid.

        Most likely he closed the system down because he has put a lot of effort and no doubt money into this service and received nothing other than this kick in the balls.

        Most likely he can't be bothered to throw further resources into this and said fuck it.

        I wonder where Astrolube (sic) obtained their figures from and whether they can in fact claim ownership of these figures.

      5. Anonymous Coward


        At A.C. 08:52 GMT (or thereabouts).

        Are you seriously saying that the information on the Unix time-zone database is created by a bunch of astrologers? Or that they should be paid to supply the information?

        It seems to me that they are complaining that their compilation of publicly available information is being used. I'm not aware of the legal framework for such a situation but in my mind the sooner someone independent and reliable takes over the compilation work the better.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Do you think that they can foresee that happening

        or where the stars in the wrong place.

        1. MartinBZM

          Nah, the stars have shifted over time and now their predictions are based on an obsolete model and therefore invalid. As are their other assumptions about 'owning' time zone information.

      7. Charles Manning

        Votards Bah!

        As I write this there are 31 down votes. Clearly votards think that if they down-vote things enough then they can change the world, the law or whatever.

        The parent is correct. If the data was indeed lifted then that's illegal and wrong no matter how many people benefit. Well said. Let's look at the legality of the situation and not all the emotional noise.

        Reg should do away with the voting. Commentards at least have to be able to structure a coherent sentence. Votards only have to be able to click a mouse to pour out there opinions. Lowering the bar on participation does not improve the discussion.

        [Expecting a good harvest of red thumbs].

        1. Gav
          Thumb Up

          win-win scenario

          If you don't like what the votes say; ignore them. They don't affect the content of the comment in any way.

          I find the votes doubly helpful. When I agree with the votes it confirms I'm right. When I disagree with the votes it confirms that most people are wrong, and I'm still right.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh for ...

      "I think the universal level of Fail just hit critical mass"

      Nah, just another greedy tosser out for a quick buck.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Newton was also an "astrologist" you prejudiced and offensive motherfucker!

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        You are the idiot

        "Newton was also an "astrologist" you prejudiced and offensive motherfucker!"

        While we're having a go at other people, Newton was a bit of an astrologer, not much of one, but certainly wouldn't be nowadays. This is like saying people in mediaeval times were stupid because they believed in four elements.

        Anyone supporting astrology today is either a liar and a cheat, or fairly ignorant. It's obviously and convincingly of no basis at all.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Tired of fundamentalism

          There are atheist talibans too... As Newton said, have you studied astrology sir? He did, in depth.

      2. elderlybloke

        Dear AC 8th October 2011 01:18 GMT

        It is over 300 years since Newton , and science has progress a long way since then..

        If you believe in Astrology , then I class you a stupid "motherfucker".

      3. FreeTard
        Thumb Down

        AC - I read in the stars...

        ...that your a complete twat. A potty mouthed twat at that.

  3. -tim

    Tick Tock

    I hate being clock blocked.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      be careful!!

      Someone may have copyrighted the phrase "Tick Tock"

      1. Gannon (J.) Dick

        Too late

        The Time Servers at the US Naval Observatory (The US Authority) are famously named "tick" and "tock" and have been for at least 12 years.

        I know this because when Y2k came around, their moon phase calculators went willy because of Microsoft's attempt to embrace, extend and extinguish javascript. I let them know, and they replied "Thanks, Microsoft" One would think with a sailor's legendary vocabulary for such eventualities they could have done a lot better than that. Must have had visiting Flags that day. Irony lovers will note that the Vice Presidential Mansion is on the grounds of the Naval Observatory inhabited at the time by Al Gore (one last "inventor of the Internet" joke).

    2. Irp

      Tick Tock Goes The Clock,

      And All The Zones, They Merge,

      Tick Tock And ve-ry soon

      All the Zones Will Die

  4. Shannon Jacobs

    More evidence American law is biased to EVIL

    Do we need any more evidence of how American law works? Does anyone remember that the ORIGINAL basis of copyrights and patents was to encourage creativity. Check the Constitution, if you're muzzy on the deal.

    In general, American laws are written by corrupt professional politicians catering to the most corrupt businessmen, precisely because the rest of the GOOD businessmen are not trying to game the system by changing the rules. Copyright is just one of the worst examples.

    I say "DEATH to Mickey Mouse!"

    1. Aaron Em

      Such utter crap

      Copyright and patent are not intended to encourage creativity; this is a modern concept, of the sort you find in a kindergarten, and wasn't thought of (nor did it need to be) by our illustrious forebears, who quite rightly valued the ingenuity and competence once characteristic of Americans far more than they did something like 'creativity' which a toddler can achieve with finger paints. Of course, after a hundred or so years of public pedagogy often administered by people not fit to earn a real living, most Americans have finger paints for brains in the first place, so I'm not surprised that people get this wrong; besides which, no one wants to admit she is a product of a degraded age, most of whose denizens would barely even be regarded by their own ancestors as human, much less as sane, healthy, and capable adults.

      Copyright and patent are intended to see to it that people who invent things can get paid. And, at least from the article, it does look as though Olson was unlawfully republishing Astrolabe's copyrighted work in the public domain, without making any sort of compensation to the copyright owner. I am no particular fan of astrology or its practitioners, but I do have some slight understanding of business, and as a business Astrolabe has every right to bring suit in these circumstances. Whether culpable infringement has actually occurred is up to a judge; I tend to suspect it won't come to much of anything unless Olson has actually been getting paid for it himself, which I doubt, but it doesn't really matter what you or I happen to think about it, because we don't work in a courtroom or a long black robe.

      If you want to get pissed off at somebody, get pissed at the asshole who allowed his database, which he had to know was partially composed of data the republication rights for which belonged to somebody else, to become such a critical resource for so many systems. Talk about your single points of failure! What the hell did he *think* was going to happen?

      1. Francis Fish

        Please ...

        read the post this refers to, plus the comments. And the article makes clear that the suit is ambiguous, don't call a man out who did something that benefited others unless you are willing to do something just as useful yourself.

        1. Aaron Em

          "unless you are willing to do something just as useful yourself"

          What, steal something you want? No, I'll leave that to you, thanks all the same.

          1. Blitterbug

            @Mr Em

            It's great fun watching your uber right-wing bollocks get the right kicking it deserves...

            1. Aaron Em

              Only a fool

              imagines that popularity and accuracy, or their respective converses, have anything particularly to do with one another, except by happenstance. You know what else "the wisdom of crowds" has given us? Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, that's what. Put them in your oh-so-democratic pipe and smoke it, why don't you?

            2. Jonathan Richards 1

              How many, now?

              Surely that should be "watching your uber right-wing bollocks get the right kicking THEY deserve". Unless you only want to kick his right-wing bollock, leaving the other alone. Precision kicking, well done that man.

        2. Ian Emery Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Astrology FAIL

          Of COURSE their suit is ambiguous; have you ever seen ANYYTHING written by an astrologer that wasnt???

          This suit puts a HUGE dent in Astrolabs credibility; if they were any7 good they would have filed this suit a week BEFORE he took the database information!!

          Paris, because she can rip off my particulars any day!!!


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